Donald Trump spent much of his 2016 campaign talking about jobs and immigration. Often, he spoke about both at once.
“Most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers,” Trump told his supporters. “They’re hurting a lot of our people that cannot get jobs.”
This economic critique of Obama-era immigration policy loomed large in Trump’s policy platform, (such as it was). The first sentence on his campaign website’s “Immigration” page was a promise to “prioritize the jobs, wages and security of the American people.” The second, a vow to “establish new immigration controls to boost wages and to ensure that open jobs are offered to American workers first.”
To accomplish these goals, Trump would “turn off the jobs and benefits magnet” that draws undocumented workers across the border in the first place. Which is to say, he would crack down on employers who hire the undocumented, in defiance of federal law.
One agency responsible for enforcing that law is the Department of Labor.
On Thursday, the president-elect indicated that he had selected Andrew Puzder — one of the corporate world’s staunchest supporters of expansionary immigration and “amnesty” for the undocumented — as his pick for Labor secretary.
In January 2013, Puzder called on Republicans to support president Obama’s immigration reform bill “not because of politics but because it’s the right thing to do.”
“The current system is unfair and unworkable,” the CEO of CKE Restaurants wrote. “It’s hurting legal immigrants who are unable to navigate it, undocumented workers who are lured to the country by the prospect of employment, then must live in the shadows — and honest business people who just want to operate their businesses consistent with the law.”
To rectify the system’s flaws, Puzder called for “a robust legal immigration program, including incentives for highly educated people to come to the U.S. and a guest-worker program; a pathway to adjusted status for those here illegally now; and special relief for the children of undocumented immigrants.”
These reforms are … a bit different than the ones that Trump campaigned on — a point that was not lost on Andrew Puzder.
Adding insult to centrist policy, Puzder has boasted about the number of immigrants he employs, and touted their superiority, relative to his entitled, American-born employees.In remarks to the American Enterprise Instititue in 2013, Puzder said that his heavily foreign-born, California labor force was made up of “hardworking, dedicated, creative people that really appreciate the fact that they have a job. Whereas in other parts of the country you often get people who are saying, ‘I can’t believe I have to work this job.’ With the immigrant population you always have a ‘Thank-God-I-have-this-job’ kind of attitude, so you end up with a real different feeling. Now that’s a gross generalization … but I think it’s probably accurate.”
The Trumpenproletariat — or, at least, its thought leaders — were less than thrilled with the news of Puzder’s appointment.
On Friday morning, the lead story on the hompage Breitbart News was entitled “AMERICA FIRST? TRUMP LABOR SECRETARY PUZDER PREFERS FOREIGN LABOR TO AMERICAN WORKERS.”
For much of the 2016 campaign, Breitbart functioned as a Donald Trump fanzine, a posture that proved beneficial to both publication and candidate — the reactionary news site expanded its audience more than any other outlet over the past year, and the site’s former president is now set to become chief White House strategist to America’s next president.
In its initial write-up of the Puzder pick, Breitbart seemed to show some deference to this cozy relationship: The news item did not use the word immigration once, and described Puzder as a “loyal Trump adviser,” who was a “vocal opponent of Obamacare.”
But the site’s Friday-morning lead suggests that, at least for now, Breitbart does not plan to function as a mouthpiece for the Trump White House, but rather, for Stephen Bannon’s wing of that building.
Meanwhile, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the restrictionist think tank Center for Immigration Studies, has tried to get a hashtag going.
Krikorian penned an op-ed for the National Review under the headline “Trump’s Labor Department Pick: Put America Last.” In it, he describes Puzder as “perhaps the worst person imaginable” for the role he’s been assigned, going on to say that “even Jeb[!] might have blushed at the idea of appointing him.”
“Assuming he’s actually nominated and confirmed, the Labor Department will go from being run by a post-American socialist to a post-American capitalist,” Krikorian concludes. “So much for putting American workers first.”
The author of Adios, America and In Trump We Trust found herself feeling the former sentiment much more than the latter.
VDare, a pro-Trump nativist site that hates Jews almost as much as it despises “illegals,”made its disappointment plain.
Liberals have framed a lot of Trump’s post-election decisions as betrayals of his working-class supporters. And they’ve (mostly) been correct to do so. Trump did not campaign on a promise to “drain the swamp” of Clinton’s Wall Street cronies — and then fill it back up with his Wall Street cronies. Nor did he spend much time on the stump decrying Obama’s decision to give more workers access to guaranteed overtime pay.
Nonetheless, Trump’s left-wing economic populism consisted of a few stray statements early in the GOP primary. For the bulk of the general-election campaign, he made his desire to cut taxes on the rich and deregulate Wall Street quite clear.
But cracking down on corporations that replace American workers with foreign and/or undocumented labor? That was the beating heart of Trump’s populist appeal.
It’s also, ostensibly, the central mission of Steve Bannon’s life. The former head of Breitbart and soon-to-be chief White House strategist has spent years building a movement that defines itself in opposition to the GOP donor class’s “open borders” agenda.
In the early days of Trump’s campaign, as the mogul began tipping over conservatism’s sacred cows, Republican intellectuals gave voice to the indignation of their movement — only to find that a plurality of that movement had more affection for Trump than for the principles he flouted.
It remains to be seen whether the nativist intelligentsia (such as it is), is headed for its own rude awakening. Is Trumpism a coherent creed — a paleo-conservatism for the internet age? Or is it, primarily, a cult of personality?
Puzder’s appointment hearings should prove enlightening on this front — because if picking a “pro-amnesty” GOP donor for Labor Secretary doesn’t spark a backlash from Trump’s grassroots base, it’s hard to imagine what could.